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Tuesday, 16 October 2012

John Clare: From The Journal: Walks in the Fields


File:Farmland at Etton - - 442768.jpg

Farmland at Etton (near Helpston). A typical Fenland field Heath
: photo by Kate Jewell, 22 May 2007

Sun. 26 Sept. Took a walk in the field heard the harvest cricket & shrew-mouse uttering their little clickering Songs among the crackling stubbles the latter makes a little ear-piercing noise not unlike a feeble imitation of the skylark I verily believe this is the very noise which is said to be made by the little swiftfooted bird calld the cricket lark came home & read a chapter or two in the New Testament I am convincd of its sacred design & that its writers were inspird by an almighty power to benefit the world by their writings that was growing deeper & deeper into unfruitful ignorance like bogs & mosses in neglected countrys for want of culture -- but I am far from being convincd that the desird end is or will be attained at present while cant & hypocrisy is blasphemously allowed to make a mask of religion & to pass as current characters I will not say that this is universal God forbid --

Wed. 29 Sept. Took a walk in the fields saw an old wood stile taken away from a favourite spot which it had occupied all my life the posts were overgrown with Ivy & it seemed so akin to nature & the spot were it stood as tho it had taken on lease for an undisturbd existence it hurt me to see it was gone for my affections claims a friendship with such things but nothing is lasting in this world last
year Langley bush was destroyd an old whitethorn that had stood more then a century full of fame the Gipseys Shepherds & Herdsmen all had their tales of its history & it will be long ere its memory is forgotten

Sat. 9 Oct.
Observed today that the Swallows are all gone when they went I know not saw them at the beginning of the week a white one was seen this season by Mr Clark in the fields while out ashooting --

Wed. 20 Oct.
Workd in the garden at making a shed for my Ariculas -- the Michaelmas daisey is in full flower with the lilac blue & the white thick set with its little clustering stars of flowers I love them for their visits in such a mellancholy season as the end of autumn -- the Horse chestnutt tree is loosing large hand shapd leaves that litter in yellow heaps round the trunk -- the walnutt is compleatly bare & the leaves are tand brown & shrivel up as if scorched -- the elms are green & fresh as the oaks

Thurs. 21 Oct.
Recievd a letter from Hessey -- & wrote one -- took a walk in the fields -- gatherd a bunch of wild flowers that lingerd in shelterd places as loath to dye -- the ragwort still shines in its yellow clusters & the little heathbell or harvestbell quakes to the wind under the quick banks & warm furze -- clumps of wild Marjoram are yet in flower about the molehilly banks & clumps of meadowsweet linger with a few bunches yet unfaded

John Clare (1793-1864): from The Journal 1824-5 in John Clare: The Journals, Essays and the Journey from Essex, ed. Anne Tibble, 1980

File:Bluebells at Helpston Heath - - 641739.jpg

Bluebells (Hyacinthoides) at Helpston Heath: photo by Ian Simon, 28 April 2004


TC said...

"...gatherd a bunch of wild flowers that lingerd in shelterd places as loath to dye -- the ragwort still shines in its yellow clusters & the little heathbell or harvestbell quakes to the wind under the quick banks & warm furze -- clumps of wild Marjoram are yet in flower about the molehilly banks & clumps of meadowsweet linger with a few bunches yet unfaded"

Has there ever been a writer who came closer to the grain of life, and to the spiritual in nature as we are given to know it, than John Clare?

John Clare: I Am
John Clare: Badger
John Clare: The Fox

Clare's great editor Anne Tibble suggests that in his Essays of this period, "...he seems to struggle with an almost overwhelming sense of guilt; guilt about not earning enough by his writing to provide effectively for his family. Yet at the same time he was determining to continue... At haytime and harvest in the 1820s he worked at labouring. But more and more he took long walks in the fields in an effort to reach peace of mind..."

"Power, influence, greed or money-catching, he didn't. or wouldn't, understand. What he cared about is stated often, in Essays, letters and poems: 'Mind alone is the sun of earth'; 'truth is the integrity of action'..."

I once tried to trace the route of one of John Clare's walks. But brilliantly enough, I tried to do it in the middle of the night. (Early-onset chronic endarkenment: the sun of earth proves elusive at two o'clock in the morning.)

awyn said...

Warm furzes and molehilly banks, I love it! Apart from this delightful walk with the writer through those fields, part of me notes the wide use of ampersands in writings of that era--and the observation that today there seems to be less walking, more 'looking at but not seeing', cryptical texting rather than reflective commentary. But oh that carpet of bluebells... what a feast for the eyes! Thanks for the virtual stroll!

(As to 'cronic endarkenment'--whenever the onset--a whole 'nother story in itself! Merci encore, Tom.

TC said...

Thanks Annie, it's wonderful isn't it?

A lush carpet of algorithms is a difficult thing to imagine, for sure.

Looking and seeing, distinct universes.

About the ampersands, and speaking of algorithms -- the journal observations of the great naturalists of the 18th and 19th centuries spark up all sorts of indignation in Blogger. This has happened before -- last time round it was Gilbert White. During editing the ampersands turn into krazy kode and have to be tweaked back to being the simple "&"s they were born as.

(As I'm sure you know, Blogger's the same way about demanding static left margins, I spent some years ruining certain perfectly imperfect poems of mine by weakly conceding the margin issue to the Blogger gods, before finally figuring out -- duh -- a work-around method.)



". . . the harvest cricket & shrew-mouse uttering their little clickering Songs among the crackling stubbles . . ." Clearly John Clare knew well of what he spoke, was seeing and hearing in those fields, on those walks, a 'simpler time' it seems.


blue whiteness of sky above still black
plane of ridge, jay calling from branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

from the field of motion so
far, velocities equal

instead of given, following
in place of, somewhat

fog reflected in motionless grey plane,
sandstone-colored cliff across from it

Wooden Boy said...

I think you're right, TC. Clare is as near to the grain of life as it gets.

Nature never serves as high-flown allegory, as myth in Clare. Nevertheless, the life of it - rich, unruly gathering of spirits - communicates and he attends to it

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Wild daily stroll spicy and tangled. Rich, dense, packed.

Anonymous said...

powerful message!!

Susan Kay Anderson said...

"sacred design"

Just beyond vacant elephant grass
overgrown plantation parcel

new winter
egrets flying too fast
all in a bunch
Hawaiian Nene slow
interested in the warm curb
at the volcano
the warm pond
looks full
but isn't

Marten said...


Long lost, I feel a touch of mono no aware and wish to express deep gratitude for this post, or outpost, and the prior Whalen lookout. What a perfect ode to autumn. Up in Portland it is a perfect clear fall day, and I have been out birding by ear and circumnavigating Mt Tabor, thinking of you and Angelica.


Nin Andrews said...

Ohhh, the bluebells. The woods fill up with him here every April.

I wonder if guilt is something writers have a talent for . . . but i suppose it's not universal, God forbid.

Such a great post.

TC said...

WB, Sandra, Susan, Nin, Ryan, delightful to find so many discerning friends of Clare's poetry gathered in the same place at the same time.

Nin, I will never forget your lovely Poland bluebells. And about guilt, and guiltless writers -- well, I suppose there may be some of those, somewhere. After all, there do exist some flightless birds. One doesn't see much of them, though. (And the fauna of Antarctica will soon enough be no more than another lost bit of natural history.)

I'm reminded that Ryan and I once had the opportunity to talk together over a period of time about Clare and John Keats.
Clare and Keats were contemporaries (Clare was two years older), and shared a problem that then (as now) creates many difficulties and obstacles for the aspiring writer: that is, a class and status deficit, with the concomitant obstacle of having to educate oneself if one is to be educated at all (in which case of course the auto-didacticism inevitably shows, exposing one to being dismissed and insulted and worst of all, laughed at behind one's back).

Still some deficits can be turned into advantages, with a bit of (well, maybe more than a bit of) imagination, work, and sheer perseverance.

Both Clare and Keats suffered badly from discouragement and depression -- the dread "blue devils", to use the term of the period (they both used it at times, to account for their chronic melancholy moods).

But the creative fires were not to be put out, in either case, by anything so superficial as social rejection. Each discovered his own solution. Clare found his in attending closely to nature, and recording his observations with wonderful specificity. Keats on the other hand, as a child of the suffocating city, had to find his way back to the natural world via the mythology handbooks that comprised his primary poetic source.

Clare and Keats had the same publishers, Taylor and Hessey, and as result there was a certain amount of second-hand communication between them, interesting now in showing the very different writerly identities the two would grow into. In the final months of Keats's life John Taylor passed along to Clare what amounted to Keats's honest critique of Clare's early lyric efforts:

"I think he [Keats] wishes to say to you that your Images from Nature are too much introduced without being called for by a particular Sentiment.... His Remark is only applicable now and then when he feels as if the Description overlaid and stifled that which ought to be the prevailing idea."

Clare, for his part, commented to Taylor that Keats "often described nature as she appeared to his fancies and not as he would have described her had he witnessed the things he described".

Perhaps Clare's most telling contribution to this indirect exchange came in his sentence on Keats's substitution of poetic literary fancy for specific natural observation: "The brook looks alone without its Naiad to his mind". Clare was thinking of Endymion, with its swarms of alluring water nymphs and forest pixies.

Clare cherished no illusions about the woods and fields being populated by charming fairies.

TC said...

Dwelling a bit further on this...

A particular point of difference can be found in the two writers' attention to nightingales. In his Ode, Keats famously opened-out his field of lyric reference and allusion to take in everything from the classical (Socrates) to the Biblical (Ruth).

Clare, training his eyes and ears on the Northamptonshire fields around him, recognized the nightingales not as literary objects but as real and extremely specific birds. He pursued the reclusive creatures to their concealed nesting-spots (in the poem "The Nightingale's Nest", "an hermit's mossy cell", containing rather common-looking eggs of "deadened green or rather olive brown"), and noticed that when glimpsed in their woodland coverts, the birds' appearance proved a great deal less remarkable than their wondrous song (expressing mild, perhaps ironic surprise that "so famed a bird / Should have no better dress than russet brown").